#IWD2017: Women of the IoT

#IWD2017: Women of the IoT

Addressing gender diversity in the technology workforce isn’t about lowering the bar – it’s about widening the net, says Internet of Business Editor Jessica Twentyman.

At a time of stunning technological progress, with countless new connected devices and sensors coming online every day, the pace of change when it comes to gender diversity in the global technology workforce remains dispiritingly sluggish.

It may even have slipped into reverse. A report released last year by Deloitte Global predicted that, by the end of 2016, fewer than 25% of IT jobs in developed countries would be held by women. “That figure is about the same as 2015, and may even be down,” the report’s authors note.

The row over gender quotas will no doubt rumble on, but on International Women’s Day (#IWD2017), as Editor of Internet of Business and as a woman who has worked in the technology business for the best part of two decades, I’m happy to make my personal position on this issue quite clear. (After all, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Be Bold for Change’.)

Yes, everyone must succeed on their own skills and merits – but to suggest that one woman to every three men is the best this industry can do belittles the skills and merits of many talented women out there. (It also suggests that the 75 percent of technology jobs occupied by men have never been handed out to bullies, braggards or plain old poor-performers – but that’s perhaps a conversation for another time and place.)

I firmly believe that it’s the IT industry that misses out as a result of its own gender imbalance – and that has an obvious, negative knock-on effect for the products and services it offers. Efforts to redress the problem are absolutely not about lowering the bar. They’re about widening the net, for everyone’s benefit. 

Stellar examples

At Internet of Business, we know there are already some brilliant women doing incredible work on IoT. There’s Harriet Green, the former Thomas Cook CEO, now heading up IBM’s global Watson IoT business. There’s Anne Lauvergeon, the first woman to run a nuclear energy company (Areva), and now chairman at French IoT connectivity start-up Sigfox.

At cloud giant Amazon Web Services, Sarah Cooper is general manager of IoT solutions. Open source hardware company Adafruit Industries, which supplies electronics and tools that inventors and hobbyists use to connect their creations to the IoT, was founded by Limor Fried in her dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology back in 2005.

There are countless others – many toiling behind the scenes with little public recognition of the work they do. Since it’s International Women’s Day, we thought this would be a good opportunity to bring just a handful to your attention.

Maria McKavanagh, Green Running

Maria McKavanagh is chief operating officer at Green Running, the company behind Verv. This connected home device monitors energy usage in homes, with the goal of giving households more control over energy bills and helping them to save money.

But it’s not a smart meter, McKavanagh stresses: Verv uses patented algorithms to identify electronic devices turned on in the home and tells the user exactly how much money each of these devices, from toasters to tumble dryers, are costing them in real time.

McKavanagh has a Masters degree in electronic systems engineering from the University of Manchester and worked as an engineer at National Instruments before joining Green Running in January 2017. At the age of 12, she was given a book by her brother, Java in 24 Hours, which set her on the road of a tech career.

She’s in no doubt that the technology industry’s gender imbalance is a big problem: “Where I believe we are struggling is with unconscious bias. It influences every interaction we have with other human beings, where we will make quick judgements without even realising based on our background and previous experiences. We also tend to feel more positively towards who mirror ourselves, so in the male-dominated tech industry, managers are subconsciously favouring people who are like them.”

“But I believe that in the UK we could dramatically accelerate innovation, discovery and company performance if we had more balanced representation of different genders and more diversity in general across all industries,” she says.

Read more: #IWD2017: Q&A with Maria McKavanagh of Green Running

Sophie Menard, Petrotechnics

Menard is product design manager at Petrotechnics, a software supplier to hazardous industries such as oil and gas, in which connected sensors, mobile devices and wearables all offer new ways to keep employees safe.

“Gender imbalance has been a factor I’ve had to consider since the very start of my career,” she says. “Working in technology and in hazardous industries has certainly forced me to quickly develop my self-confidence as well as my technical expertise. I was often under the impression I had to prove my value a bit more than the rest of my colleagues, rightly or wrongly.”

“However, twelve years later, I see this situation differently and get rather amused by the look of my male colleagues or partners the first time they meet me. I think I now have the conviction that, as a woman, I can bring a fresh, innovative and sometimes even disruptive perspective, which can add real value to my team.”

Would she recommend a career in technology to other women? “Of course! I would tell them about the fantastic opportunity there is to work in the pioneering field of IoT, where everything remains to be done. I would tell them about the value they can bring in an open-minded sector that needs ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. I would tell them that the biggest successes in this sector often come from complementary skills, expertise and perspectives – and women certainly have a role to play there.”

Kelley Duarte, AT&T

At telco giant AT&T, assistant vice president for IoT and strategic services in the EMEA region, Kelley Duarte, leads a team dedicated to helping companies across a wide range of sectors develop innovative and successful IoT solutions.

A project she highlights involved working with Volvo Trucks across the US and Canada, connecting over 100,000 vehicles to monitor their performance, plan routes, maximise efficiency and help maintain them. “We’re planning to extend the project across EMEA and Asia Pacific in the near future,” she says.

“IoT is so creative,” she adds. For her, she says, it’s about asking the question: What’s possible here? “There are no gates, there are infinite possibilities. It could be working on smart cities to save energy and resources or automated transport – or things we haven’t even thought of yet. I love it and, I guarantee, so will the next generation of women.”

With that next generation in mind, Duarte’s working as part of a STEM programme that aims to encourage young women to take up IT careers. She’s also involved in AT&T’s annual Girls’ Day, where the company opens its doors to female high-school students, to see what working for the company is really like. “We’re hosting Girls’ Days across 11 AT&T offices in Germany, Belgium, France, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the UK,” she says.